for the Torah For The Times archives

Beha'alotcha- Friday, June 5, 2015 - 18 Sivan, 5775 

Torah Reading: Beha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1 - 12:16)  
HaftorahZechariah 2:14 - 4:7 

Pirkei Avot: Chapter 2 
Learn more about Pirkei Avot here    

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 8:05 PM   
Shabbat ends: 9:15 PM








Turmoil for Yehudah

In our Parsha this week, the Torah describes the orderly journeying of the Jewish people in the desert organized by tribe and regiment.  When the Torah describes the movement of the tribe of Yehudah it uses the Hebrew word vayisa. With respect to all the other tribes, the Torah uses the word v’nasa. While both words have the same translation they represent different grammatical forms of the word for journey. The question has been raised why is the term vayisa used exclusively for the camp of Yehudah?

Some of the early commentators answer this question by observing that these two words have significantly different numerical values. 

Ba’al HaTurim makes the following comment: The numerical difference between the values of the words v’nasa andvayisa is 40. The numerical value of the word vayisa, used for the camp of Yehudah, was 40 less than that of v’nasa. This is to intimate that Yehudah, the progenitor of the tribe bearing his name, was “lacking” in his journey. Yehudah had long since passed away by the time of the Exodus but his remains were carried out of Egypt and through the desert years. The Talmud (Sotah 7b) relates that Yehudah’s bones rattled around in his coffin for 40 years because of the promise Yehudah made to his father Jacob: if Yehudah did not bring Benjamin back to Jacob from the brothers’ trip to Egypt he would be excommunicated forever. The mere fact that he invoked the stigma of excommunication on himself, even though it was conditioned on not returning Benjamin to his father, meant that it could not be revoked except by a duly authorized tribunal of Sages.

As a result of his excommunication, Yehudah’s remains were constantly in a state of turmoil until, as the Talmud, relates, at the end of 40 years, Moses found justification for the ban to be removed.

Why didn’t Moses find a way to commute the excommunication ban on Yehudah at an earlier point in the 40 years? Why did his body have to go through the ignominy of excommunication, even after his passing, for an entire generation?

True Leadership

The answer to this question can perhaps be found in a simpler explanation for the different words chosen to describe their journeying. 

The term v’nasa, used for all the other camps, carries the connotation that their traveling was more passive. Whereas the term vayisa used for the Camp of Yehudah implies a more active mode of travel.

Indeed, Yehudah was the first camp to travel and to lead the way. Even before the Mishkan-Portable Sanctuary made its first move, the Camp of Yehudah blazed the way. The Torah thus uses the more active form vayisa, whereas the other tribes/camps followed, hence the passive form of v’nasa.

The Chassidic work Igra d’kalah cites the Zohar as a source for the difference between the yud in the word vayisa and the nun of the word v’nasa. The yud is the letter of bestowing and generating, hence leadership, while the letter nunrepresents the power of receiving and following. By its choice of words, the Torah indicates that Yehudah was the ultimate leader.

There is a clear message in this.

Yehudah was the tribe chosen to lead all the others. Yehudah was the progenitor of Kings David and Solomon and the source of the Davidic dynasty of leaders, including Moshiach, who, the Torah tells us, will be a descendant of David. From the very outset, it was Yehudah who took responsibility for his brother Benjamin, which corrected his failure to save his brother Joseph. Instead, Yehudah advised his brothers against killing Joseph and urged that they sell him into slavery. That act was unbecoming of a true leader and was the key transgression for which he had to atone.

Yehudah’s Atonement

Yehudah’s atonement was partially achieved when he undertook to bring Benjamin home to his father. The atonement was completed during the 40 years that his body could not achieve a state of rest and peace. Only when his body’s compromised state endured for 40 years did the stain of his misguided compromise leave him.

The Talmud relates that not only was his body affected by his self-excommunication.  His soul was denied entry into the Heavenly Academy. It was only with Moses’ importuning that Yehudah’s soul was able to reach its zenith and lead the way in the Heavenly spheres.

For Yehudah to be “rehabilitated” he had to experience the devastating effects that an ill-advised compromise can have on both body and soul.

Uncompromised Leadership

The above is particularly relevant to our own day and age. We Jews believe that Moshiach is a human being of flesh and blood, body and soul; he is a scion of David and Yehudah. Moshiach’s uniqueness is that he leads and cares for his people unequivocally. Moreover, his concern for the welfare of the Jewish people extends both to their bodies and souls. For Moshiach, as for any true leader, the other person’s material needs are his own spiritual needs.

Indeed, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s leadership was distinguished by his devotion to the material needs of the broken-spirited generation in the aftermath of the horrible pogroms of the 17th century and the false Messiah, Shabbatai Tzvi. The Jewish people were left demoralized and devastated in body and spirit by both of those terrible events.

A true Jewish leader concerns himself with the spiritual needs of his flock as well as their material needs. And in both areas he sees no room for compromise, i.e., a half-baked, temporary or Band-Aid solution. He seeks a total and all-encompassing remedy for the problems of the world.

Moshiach, the ultimate model of leadership, cannot rest until every Jew has all that he or she needs materially and spiritually. For Moshiach, batting .999 is not enough. He wants everything for his people and he wants it now! 

Moshiach’s focus goes beyond his efforts for the Jewish people. Moshiach sees the entire world as his area of concern. The Jewish belief in the Moshiach and the Messianic Age he ushers in is that it will bring universal peace. Moreover, the entire world’s population will be uplifted and enjoy an unprecedented spiritual epiphany that will last forever! Even before the final Redemption unfolds, Moshiach will reach out to all of the nations of the world and encourage them to abide by the Seven Noahide Commandments, which form the bedrock of all civilized society.

However, Moshiach is not just an individual leader. According to the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov, every one of us possesses a spark of Moshiach.  When we ignite this spark it awakens in us the realization that our mission is to bring perfection to our lives and to the lives of every person with whom we have contact. There is no room for compromise.

Yehudah’s compromise, the one by which Joseph was sold into slavery, lead us to disaster. This, our Sages tell us, was the very cause of our Egyptian bondage, which foreshadowed all subsequent periods of exile including our own. Compromise thus is synonymous with exile.

The Three Cs

The underlying message is that compromising our values and commitments is the root cause of an exile existence. Compromise, complacency and comfort are signs of immobility and stagnation. They derive from a distorted picture of one’s purpose and capabilities, as well as a jaundiced and jaded image of the world’s potential. 

To reverse that situation one’s eyes must be opened to see the unblemished truth of existence that lies below surface appearances.  When we see the road ahead of us and the boundless opportunities that are available to us, it will shake us out of our state of complacency and ignite the spark in us to seek unadulterated goodness and G‑dliness.

No Time for Delay

There is another explanation for the variance in the expression used for the travelling of the camps. The reason Yehudah’s journeying is described with the word vayisa is that the Camp of Yehudah had to start its travel without any delay. As soon as they saw the lifting of the cloud from above the Mishkan they knew it was time to start moving with dispatch. That is what is indicated by the term vayisa. By contrast, the other camps had to wait for the dismantling of the Mishkan and, of necessity, they tarried, which is best described by the word v’nasa.

This explanation also signals the uniqueness of Yehudah as a leader. The leader has no time to wait before the Sanctuary is dismantled; he moves in the right direction without hesitation.

This pattern was the hallmark of the tribe of Yehudah. Right before the splitting of the Sea, it was Nachshon from the tribe of Yehudah who made the plunge, whereas all the other tribes waited first for the miracle.

The Rebbe cited the Talmudic expression for the Messianic Age, miyad,   which means immediately. The Rebbe explained that it is an acronym for Moses, Israel (Ba’al Shem Tov) and David. (These three leaders are intimately connected to the recently observed Festival of Shavuos: the Torah was given through Moses on Shavuos, while King David and the Ba’al Shem Tov both passed away on this Holiday).

The message here is that through the study of Torah (Moses), true leadership (David) and spiritual inspiration (Ba’al Shem Tov) we unleash the energy, alacrity and enthusiasm that is associated with Moshiach.

The lesson for our time is clear. Just like the Camp of Yehudah, we cannot wait until the entire Messianic drama unfolds before we jump on the bandwagon. We have to initiate the Messianic dynamic before the actual Redemption commences. This we do by anticipating the changes that will occur in the Messianic Age and bring that unbounded energy, joy, alacrity and completeness into our own lives today, despite our exile conditions. This will certainly change our entire outlook on life and serve as the catalyst to remove the final obstacles to the ultimate Redemption.